Nick Kindelsperger pays tribute to the late Brian Mita, of Izakaya Mita, whose death of cancer at 43 I noted last week:

Brian Mita had an infectious passion for Japanese food and sake and didn’t mind sharing it with anyone who asked. I know this, because whenever I had particular questions about Japanese food, I’d reach out to him, and he’d drop whatever he was doing to help.

That includes when I was grappling with how to review a new restaurant serving okonomiyaki, a Japanese street food favorite. Even though his restaurant also served the dish, he happily joined me for the review and walked me through the process of making each from scratch. Chicago was lucky to have such a friendly and knowledgeable ambassador of Japanese cuisine, and I feel just as fortunate to have learned from him.


Mike Sula has a well-detailed piece on a cidermaker, Overgrown Orchard, using the fruit of the Gary, Indiana area. Really:

I spent a day at Overgrown Orchard last month, eating cheese and tasting finished, bottled cider—and also barreled ciders still maturing after the wild spontaneous fermentation that’s begun with naturally occurring yeast found on apple skins, in the air, and on the oak. Each one had its own distinct nose and flavor, but overall what distinguished them from the one-dimensional, canned supermarket ciders that dominate the U.S. market was their dry fruitiness, food-friendly acidity, and very often a whisper—sometimes a gust—of farmhouse funk.


Time Out’s Zach Long gives River North Italian restaurant Adalina 3 stars out of 5, but it’s not clear what the saving grace was. Not the atmosphere:

Upon entering Adalina’s second-floor dining room, it quickly became clear that my date and I would quite literally be rubbing elbows with our fellow diners (even late on a Tuesday night). Tables are crammed into the space, forcing you to squeeze through narrow lanes when you need to get up from your seat. The sheer number of people in the restaurant also makes for a noisy meal—even when my date and I moved closer to one another, it was difficult to hear above the din.

And not, it appears, the food:

Once we’d successfully transmitted our order to our server and food began to arrive, our first bites didn’t exactly get the meal off on the right foot. The cacio e pepe arancini made with forbidden black rice sounded great on paper, but the fried rice balls had a somewhat unpleasant gummy texture to them—at least by the time they arrived at our table. A caesar salad was laden with big pieces of lettuce and grated truffle that only served to overpower the black garlic and Parmigiano Reggiano included in the dish in a rather unpleasant way.


Steve Dolinsky raves about Sochi, a nicer-than-most Vietnamese restaurant in Lakeview, and says one secret is who’s in the kitchen: both mothers-in-law of husband and wife owners Son and Chinh Pham.

And speaking of newish Vietnamese restuarants, Aimee Levitt has a piece at Eater marking the first anniversary of DaNang Kitchen in Uptown:

Most of the menu of DaNang Kitchen is comprised of dishes from the south that [owner Sydney] Le learned from her grandmother. The one exception is mì quảng, which Le learned from her husband, Sam Truong, when they first met. Truong is from central Vietnam, where the cuisine is more savory and incorporates more fish. “I fell in love with the food before I fell in love with him,” she jokes. Now Truong is her sous chef.

Buzz 2


It’s been a while since I’ve read a paean to the specialty of Springfield, IL, the horseshoe. Edward McClelland brings the subject up to date at Chicago.


Ed Debevic’s is back—does anybody need to go through that again? I don’t think I do, but Nick Kindelsperger tries it on his 8-year-old daughter, to see if she’ll be amused:

At first, she is incredulous. The world thus far has been filled with pleases and thank yous, sitting still at dinner and not interrupting others when they talk. But I see the notion take hold, of a secret world where none of that matters. A restaurant without rules. What a glorious thing.

Will she like it? Or find it embarrassing, like parents? Read here to find out.


So it looks like tiki bars are rising on the “canceled” charts. A piece at NewCity by John Greenfield sets out all the reasons why we should deplore bars that evoke a campy midcentury view of the South Seas, of papier-mache volcanos and mugs that look like Easter Island heads and native girls in grass skirts:

…amidst all this supposed fun, there have been lingering questions about the genre. For example, is the whimsical use of Pacific Island terminology and iconography —particularly religious imagery like tiki carvings and moai, Easter Island statues—in these establishments sufficiently respectful of actual Polynesian cultures? And does this lighthearted take on Oceania inappropriately gloss over the more uncomfortable aspects of the region’s history and modern-day reality?

…In the wake of the George Floyd police murder and renewed calls for addressing past and present racial injustices, tiki venues have come under increased scrutiny, with some people arguing that the format may be irredeemably flawed. Leading the charge has been the Pasifika Project, “an organization founded by and created for individuals of Oceanic descent within the hospitality and spirits industry,” which has a reading list of tiki criticism on its website.

The George Floyd killing—is there anything it can’t make problematic? The language used in the piece seems to have already decided how we’re supposed to feel; “racial injustice” is assumed, the real colonial history of that part of the world is ignored whenever you get pineapple in your drink, and so on.

Here’s what I think. Tiki can be tacky, in a racial way, like so many things from the mid-20th century. But I don’t think drinking fruity rum drinks in a fantasy thatched hut is necessarily implicated in colonialism and “racial injustice.” Part of what we drink and dine out for is to experience other worlds—often fantasy, abstracted ideas of what other parts of the world are like. Italian Village has an upper floor area that feels like being on a stage set depicting, well, an Italian village. Many Japanese restaurants have tatami mats for sitting on in a way that does not come naturally to westerners. Are these things racist, or merely… fun to try, once in a while?

Tiki is a little tougher because it is, no question, more of a cartoon vision of Polynesian culture. But it is rooted in something historical, as Greenfield notes briefly:

The trend picked up steam in the postwar era, when American GIs returning from the Pacific theater were nostalgic for the sights, sounds and flavors of the South Seas.

I recently watched one of the seminal documents of Tiki culture, John Ford’s 1963 Donovan’s Reef. Filmed in Hawaii playing Polynesia, it’s one of those boozy comedies where you suspect the cast and crew had more fun making the movie than audiences did watching it. It stars manly men like John Wayne and Lee Marvin as guys who saw the South Seas in the Navy and decided never to come home; their bohemian, self-sufficient life in the South Pacific stands in contrast to the Bostonian high society one of them (Jack Warden) has escaped from, and that rears its head when his daughter turns up looking for him.

Anyway, I’m not selling it as any great masterpiece but I think it does nicely sum up how so many guys were bewitched by the world they saw in the service—some going full Gauguin and staying there, most just getting a taste of it again when they wandered into a bar evoking that part of the world. But why should we honor the nostalgia a bunch of crusty old white guys (ewww, John Wayne!)? I don’t know, maybe because a lot of them fought and died over there to liberate Pacific Islanders from the imperial Japanese war machine? Lee Marvin, for one, wounded in the Battle of Saipan.

So to me, Tiki comes not only with a sense of exotic pleasure (especially welcome in a cold place like this), but with a nod to the experience of soldiers and sailors fighting fascism, seeking to just remember the good parts of their service. I find it hard to begrudge that categorically; I also find it hard to find much pleasure in this:

When I stop by, Lost Lake’s decor, which had always been minimalist by tiki bar standards, is almost spartan. Gone are the glass fishing floats hanging in the front window, the fishing basket light fixtures over the bar, and the pufferfish chandelier. A picture of a woman in a grass skirt has been taken down, a rock wall is covered with a curtain, and fake skulls have been removed from the fish tank. Unlike the last time I visited, staff members aren’t wearing aloha shirts, and vintage R&B, not typically heard in tiki bars, is playing on the sound system. A bartender says these changes are part of the rebranding.

So wait, they’re culturally appropriating African-American R&B to avoid being a Tiki bar? Sounds wrong to me. I think they should get rid of the rest of the tropical decor and just drink, silently, in a bare concrete bunker. Just to be safe.


You probably saw this because it was all over social media, but in case you didn’t, enter the nightmare that was dinner at one-Michelin-star Bros., in Lecce, Italy, according to blogger Geraldine DeRuiter:

It wasn’t dinner. It was just dinner theater.

No, scratch that. Because dinner was not involved. I mean—dinner played a role, the same way Godot played a role in Beckett’s eponymous play. The entire evening was about it, and guess what? IT NEVER SHOWED.

…What followed was a 27-course meal (note that “course” and “meal” and “27” are being used liberally here) which spanned 4.5 hours and made me feel like I was a character in a Dickensian novel. Because – I cannot impart this enough – there was nothing even close to an actual meal served. Some “courses” were slivers of edible paper. Some shots were glasses of vinegar. Everything tasted like fish, even the non-fish courses. And nearly everything, including these noodles, which was by far the most substantial dish we had, was served cold.

Afterwards many people compared what was in the pictures at this post—including a horrifying dish that was literally a cast of the chef’s mouth, with foam in it, as if the chef had rabies; you were expected to lick the foam out of the plaster mouth—to what was shown at sites like TripAdvisor, and wondered if the depiction of dinner at Bros. was real.

Well, many of them strike me as the sort of thing you might get in a conceptual tasting menu, like the printable menu at Moto back in the day. Here’s the thing, though: that sort of thing is mostly kept to the early courses, to surprise you, expand your mind and set the stage for main courses, the wagyu and venison courses that ensure you go home feeling you ate a real meal. The problem at Bros. is that there never were any main courses:

I’ve tried to come up with hypotheses for what happened. Maybe the staff just ran out of food that night. Maybe they confused our table with that of their ex-lover’s. Maybe they were drunk. But we got twelve kinds of foam, something that I can only describe as “an oyster loaf that tasted like Newark airport”, and a teaspoon of savory ice cream that was olive flavored.

Anyway, it’s a delight to read if not to live, especially for keeping in mind the next time the tire company tries to tell Chicago what our best restaurants are. One star will always mean “as good as Bros. in Lecce” to me now. But what you may not have seen if you saw this review, are the followups. The Today show asked Bros. for comment and got back a three-page artist’s statement which is best summed up for utter pretentiousness by the fact that it includes a picture of Napoleon on horseback as some sort of metaphor for being a chef. (The horse-based nature of the reply led to more hilarity on Twitter.)

We have a bunch of new conceptual tasting menu offerings here in Chicago. And now the bar has been set in Lecce. Let’s see who steps up to equal this experience.


RPM Restaurants sommelier Bobby Joe Rinaldo has a form of brain cancer. Andros Taverna will hold a benefit for him (Bobbypalooza) on Monday night, with all proceeds going to him to help him in his struggle. Just show up at the Logan Square restaurant on Monday between 6 and 9. (H/t Ka-Leung Ngai)


It was December 2019 when I ran a short item announcing the impending opening of Robert et Fils, from chef Rob Shaner who I had written about here. At the time he planned his small French restaurant (in the former Kitsune space) to open in the spring of 2020, but COVID ensured that didn’t happen and it was a small quantity of takeout food for months and months. Finally a few weeks ago it opened for real at long last.

Shaner spent part of his childhood in France and the result is an inclination toward pretty classic French cuisine, not heavy or cream-based, but at least for this winter menu, dark sauces and substantial main courses. (Though a tasting menu, courses tend to be fairly full-sized and there are only about seven in total. You will not go home Bros.-hungry.) Flavors were generally good and inventive—the sort-of-soup with custard and caviar was a real pleasure, a hunk of celery root treated as if it were a hunk of steak in a Bordelaise-like sauce were satisfying and novel.

But it was the textures that I felt needed more variety and interest—the first two courses (or amuse-bouche and first course, perhaps) were soft and creamy, and most of what followed tended to be soft enough to fall apart with a fork—a fish course, built around a filet of turbot and a prawn, both of which can be described as cooked no further than rare, seemed like it would have set up what was to follow better if it had had a crispy edge, maybe a dusting of bread crumbs, instead of approaching sashimi. It also seemed as if things were rarely hot—I think that was deliberate, because the soup, as noted, had caviar in it (and you don’t want to cook that) and the main course, lièvre (hare) a la royale, was topped with a slice of foie gras, which you don’t want to melt away, but on a wintry night I was ready for something to warm me from the inside out. Desserts were quite good—a palate cleanser of toasted hay sorbet in a puddle of honey yogurt, and a very nicely made miniature tarte tatin in a truffle-scented vanilla sauce.

So, my feeling is that a couple of weeks in, this seems a promising start, but overall a somewhat narrow slice of what French cooking represents, that could seem a bit repetitive even in so few courses. I look forward to this cozy, toasty space blossoming in the months ahead to give us the full picture of what made its chef love French food.